I watched Mother’s funeral Mass on YouTube Wednesday. (One blessing that’s come out of the pandemic is access to events from afar.) It felt strange to be at home, watching and listening as people spoke about Mother, seeing the photo of her with Dad, taking in the small (so small) brown box of her ashes. She had belonged to her parish for more than 20 years, was well known and well liked there. The priest spoke warmly, from long acquaintanceship. But there is one thing he said - or didn’t say, rather - that needs to be added to the record.
Every winter for many years, Mother would go to my sister Janet’s house in December and, in January, she would come to Texas with Janet and her husband Dave, who snow-birded in Port Aransas. They’d stop at our house on their way and drop Mother off with Michael and I for a month or so. What a joy for me to have those weeks with her and share her with my friends over the years.
The priest mentioned her trips to Grand Forks and Texas when he spoke about Mother. He said he could never understand why someone would leave Montana in the winter and go to Grand Forks. (FYI - that’s in North Dakota.) He used to tease her about it after her last Mass the weekend she would leave with Janet and Dave. He remarked on her Grand Forks trips laughingly at the funeral, but he forgot to share the rest of the story.
Every year when he teased Mother about it, she always replied, “It’s warm where I’m going.” You see, Mother was never just going to Grand Forks, which is indeed a frigid place in winter. No, she was going home, literally, to the place she raised her family, because she was going home with Janet, who lives in the house my parents built more than 50 years ago. She was going home to the community where she earned her degrees and taught school. She was going home to share fond memories with her many friends of bridge club and Altar Society and PTA, of the cocktail parties her generation made famous and the gourmet dinners that often followed them.
I felt sad not to be at her Mass in person, but there will be another service next summer that I will attend, when our extended family gathers in Mandan, North Dakota to inter her ashes next to my Dad’s. We’ll laugh and remember and tell stories to each other and to her grandchildren and great-grandchildren about this wonderful woman who raised us. It’ll be warm there, too.